The last time Frank Haith met his mentor Rick Barnes on the hardwood, the Longhorns knocked off the Miami Hurricanes in Little Rock and booked a trip to the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes put up a good fight that afternoon at Alltel Arena, but came up just short in the final minutes.
This time around, the Tigers made absolutely certain that Haith earned the victory against his former boss. Missouri shot 54% from the field, including an incredible 73% mark from behind the arc in the first half, and ultimately defeated the Longhorns by 11 in the final conference meeting at Mizzou Arena between the two schools.
Texas found itself in a deep hole in the first half thanks to Mizzou’s superhuman performance from behind the arc, falling behind by as much as 16 late in the half. The Longhorns clawed back, however, slicing the Tiger lead down to just five with a little over nine minutes left in the game.
Seconds later, J’Covan Brown split his lip while committing a foul and headed to the bench. With the Longhorns missing their leader, Missouri’s Phil Pressey took over, scoring seven points in 50 seconds to end any threat of a comeback by Texas.
What looked good
Despite the final outcome, the performance by J’Covan Brown was one of his best as a Longhorn. At times, he still appeared to be bothered by the ankle injury that has dogged him since the Iowa State game on January 4th. Even with that nuisance, Brown posted 34 points in the loss, drilling 6-of-7 from long range while also knocking down all eight free throws. J’Covan has now made his last 19 free throws, a streak stretching back to the end of the first half against Oklahoma State.
Freshman Myck Kabongo also performed well in the loss, logging the first double-double of his short career. Kabongo finished with 12 points and 10 assists, with a majority of his buckets coming on aggressive drives to the basket. There were still some questionable drives where he put himself in a bad situation, but for the most part he was wise about when to attack. That is something that has been an issue for him all season, so hopefully this is a sign that the light bulb is starting to illuminate for the freshman.
Big man Clint Chapman also continued his recent trend of steady performances, although foul trouble dogged him for much of the game. The senior picked up his second personal less than five minutes into the game, and he was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the half. He certainly had his difficulties in this one, bobbling a pair of passes that cost the team possessions, but he did good work on the glass and knocked down a free-throw line jumper without hesitation. There is no question that the team looked better with Chapman on the floor, so he will have to avoid the whistles if the Longhorns want to win against physical teams in the Big 12.
While Chapman did well on the glass, it was actually Jonathan Holmes who led the team with seven rebounds. Alexis Wangmene also grabbed four offensive boards, as the Horns posted excellent rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor. Texas secured 47.1% of their missed shots, the second-best number put up against the Tigers all season long.
When Missouri actually missed shots, Texas also did a good job limiting their second chances, holding the Tigers to just a 28.6% rebounding percentage. That number might not seem impressive against a team playing a four-guard lineup, but the way that Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore were imposing their will in the paint, it was rather surprising to see.
Although it was overshadowed by how well Missouri played, the Longhorns actually had one of their most efficient outings of the season on offense. That number was buoyed by Brown’s dead-eye marksmanship from behind the arc, but Texas still scored 1.135 points per possession, the best performance by a Missouri opponent this year.
What needed work
That offensive efficiency number could have been even more impressive had the Longhorns avoided frustrating turnovers. Texas coughed it up 14 times on the day, ending nearly 22% of their possessions with turnovers. While many came on errant passes, the most frustrating errors were a shot clock violation and five-count that came on back-to-back possessions as Missouri pulled away late in the first half. Texas is going to face teams that are much more talented than them in the next two-plus weeks, so they simply cannot afford to waste possessions.
While the turnovers were frustrating for Longhorn fans, the defense was downright infuriating. Texas came out in a zone, and the Tigers immediately lit them up behind the arc. Even when the Longhorns switched to a man defense, they still elected to go under screens against Flip Pressey. Coming into the game, the younger Pressey was just a 26% shooter from behind the arc, so that decision is hard to fault. Unfortunately, on Saturday afternoon, Flip was possessed by the spirit of J.J. Redick and he killed Texas with three clutch triples. When the Tigers weren’t drilling threes, constant penetration by the guards drew the defense, leaving Ratliffe alone underneath for countless easy buckets.
On the other end of the floor, Julien Lewis followed up his solid performance against Texas A&M with yet another abysmal day from the floor. Lewis was consistently able to find his way to the paint and had excellent elevation above the defense to pop his jump shot. Of course, space and elevation only go so far when you knock down just 1-of-10 from the floor.
Lewis started hot out of the gate for the Longhorns this season, scoring 18 in his debut against Boston University. He’s shown the ability to score in bunches, but at this point, it’s painfully clear that he is a very streaky player. In games where he has taken at least five shots, Julien has posted a shooting percentage above 35% just five times. Nine times he has been below that mark, including three that were below 15%. If Lewis hits some of his early shots in future games, give him the green light. But when he comes out cold, he has to realize it’s not his night and defer to teammates.
Texas also struggled converting some really easy looks, missing at the rim on multiple occasions in the first half. Sheldon McClellan failed to finish on two different fast-break opportunities, which only fueled the Mizzou Arena crowd and added to the Tiger momentum. Easy points are few and far between in conference play, so the Longhorns have to make those opportunities count.
The big picture
In the grand scheme of things, this loss isn’t a killer. We’ve repeatedly discussed just how brutal this three-week stretch of the schedule will be for Texas. The Longhorns still need to add a few quality wins to the résumé before Selection Sunday, and yesterday’s performance should at least give their fans some hope that perhaps they could spring an upset on the Tigers in the rematch at the Erwin Center on January 30th.
Texas still must beat Iowa State at home on January 24th, and would benefit from stealing another win or two in their upcoming games against K-State, Kansas, Baylor, and Missouri. The sky is not falling yet, but the Longhorns will have to surprise someone in the near future to feel more comfortable about their tournament chances.
Up next: at #18/18 Kansas State (12-4 overall, 1-3 Big 12)